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Newspaper Endorsement An Educated Decision, Not A Science
By Tammerlin Drummon
Oakland Tribune Columnist
October 17, 2010
THE BAY Area News Group's endorsement of Rebecca Kaplan for Oakland mayor has generated considerable debate.
Some have praised the newspaper for going its own way, rather than following in the footsteps of most of the political and business establishment for whom former state leader Don Perata is the overwhelming favorite. Others have accused us of doing a public disservice for selecting someone who has barely had time to warm her seat on the City Council.
So, just how did we arrive at our decision to support Kaplan as our first choice, followed by Joe Tuman, second, and Jean Quan, third?
The newspaper's editorial board -- of which I am a member -- determines which candidates to endorse in local, state and national elections. Each board member gets a vote. Our publisher has the final say-so.
The process is by no means an exact science. Some of it comes down to what our gut instinct tells us.
We began by whittling down the list of 10 candidates to the four who actually merited voter consideration: Kaplan, Perata, Councilwoman Jean Quan and political analyst/university professor Joe Tuman.
We examined each candidate's qualifications. We analyzed the soundness of their ideas for addressing key problems such as the public safety crisis, Oakland's dire finances, stunted economic development, and high unemployment.
We observed them on the campaign trail and at candidate forums.
Much to our dismay, Perata, the presumed front-runner, steadfastly refused to appear at the public forums unless all 10 candidates were invited. With so many people on the podium, the serious candidates did not have an opportunity to give substantive answers. Frustrated voters felt they still knew very little about the mayoral choices beyond campaign slogans.
We invited only the top four to meet with our editorial board because we wanted to hear detailed solutions, not sound bites.
We met with Kaplan, Perata, Quan and Tuman, for 21/2 hours at The Oakland Tribune offices. We posed detailed questions about their proposals.
Our goal was to determine who among the candidates had the best grasp of the issues. Who had an overall plan for addressing Oakland's many challenges? Who had the personality and communication skills to rally people behind a common goal?
We all wished that the field were stronger.
We -- as will voters -- faced a very tough choice.
During the interview, we were shocked by Perata's evasiveness, use of faulty facts, and ignorance of some of the major issues facing the city.
Perata wrote the opposition to the Measure X $360-per-year parcel tax, which would raise the funds to avert more police layoffs.
Yet when asked how he would find the money to retain the officers, Perata had no reasonable alternative. He said vaguely that he would lay off unnecessary employees in other city departments -- fixating on KTOP cable TV, whose budget is minuscule. He then insisted that Police Chief Anthony Batts present his strategic plan to the City Council -- completely unaware that the chief had already done so.
Perata didn't offer up a single fresh idea and didn't even make an effort to appear prepared.
Regardless of his standing in the polls, we felt that Perata's poor knowledge of the issues, combined with his history of ethically questionable dealings, made him a poor choice for mayor.
All of the editorial board members agreed that Kaplan was the top choice. She is green -- having served barely two years on the city council.
We had questions about whether she is ready to assume such a daunting post. But again, we considered the alternatives.
Kaplan is very bright, enthusiastic and she has vision. She has a grasp of the city's financial challenges.
If she can stay focused, the editorial board felt that she can grow into the job.
Our choices for the number two and three picks generated the most discussion.
I felt that Quan, rather than Tuman, should have been our second choice.
Tuman, the political analyst and university professor may have some good ideas, but he has zero local government experience.
Yet Quan has a record of getting things done in her district, regardless of what some may think of her personally.
Will our endorsement have any impact on the outcome?
This newspaper didn't endorse Ron Dellums or Lionel Wilson, who nevertheless went on to win.
Hopefully, we will at least encourage voters to take a close look at the candidates instead of assuming that the result is already a foregone conclusion.
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